Utility Regulator - Find out how to switch

The Consumer Council consultation response on Changes to the Affordable Warmth Scheme

The Consumer Council response to Utility Regulator Draft Forward Work Programme

Council Minutes - December 2017

The Consumer Council response to OFCOM’s proposed annual plan 2018

The Consumer Council response to Citizens Advice workplan

PCSP Community Safety Day

Translink Site Visit Report

Stena Line Site Visit Report

8 February 2018

Freedom Tariff

Consumer Parliament coming to Derry / Londonderry 23 March 2018

in Consumer Skills

Residents in Derry City and Strabane District Council area will soon get to have their say on the consumer issues that concern them, thanks to The Consumer Council which is staging a ‘Consumer Parliament’, in partnership with Derry City and Strabane District Council, at the Guildhall on Friday, 23 March.

Welcoming the Consumer Parliament to the City, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Maolíosa McHugh, encouraged residents to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity: “Whatever your age, wherever you live and whatever you do, I hope you will come along to this event and raise any consumer concerns you have directly with the people who can help you,” he said.

“Not only will you be able to have your voice heard, you will also be able to learn about your rights as a consumer, get tips to reduce your household bills, and get help with your enquiries and complaints.”

Sheila McClelland, Chair of The Consumer Council, expressed her appreciation of the support that Derry City and Strabane District Council had provided, including the use of the Guildhall: “We received extremely positive feedback from participants at our first Consumer Parliament in Belfast last year, so we are very excited to be able now to provide the same opportunity to consumers in Derry City and Strabane District Council,” she said.

“Northern Ireland may be small, but the issues consumers face can be very different depending not only on their situation but also where they live.  For that reason, the Consumer Parliament will include a dedicated session on flooding as well as sessions on postal services, transport issues and home energy.

“We want to hear directly from residents about the issues they have and ensure they are provided with the necessary support.” 

The Consumer Parliament will run from 10.00am to 3.30pm on Friday 23 March at the Guildhall.  Registration will open at 9.00am.

A consumer clinic – to provide one-on-one support to residents – will run simultaneously throughout the day.

There will also be exhibition stands from a range of consumer organisations, utilities and service providers. 

To register for the Consumer Parliament visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk/consumerparliament or call free on 0800 121 6022. 

Residents unable to attend can still have their say by completing a short survey available at www.consumercouncil.org.uk/consumerparliament

Refreshments and lunch will be provided free of charge – register early as spaces will be limited.

 

Current Account Comparison Table

SGN Natural Gas Information Event

Experiences and attitudes of vulnerable consumers and businesses to the postal service

The Consumer Council - Helping Your Business

Consumer Parliament

1 February 2018

Consumer Parliament

Electricity Price Comparison Table February 2018

Flying this winter?

Need home heating oil?

Got a Complaint?

Save on your energy bill

Don’t be left out of pocket advises The Consumer Council

in Energy, Consumer Skills

Pay As You Go Energy Top Up Scam.

The Consumer Council and PSNI are advising consumers to be extra vigilant about bogus callers on your doorstep or social media sites offering discounted pay as you go electricity top ups. This is a scam and consumers doing this will end up paying twice for their energy supply. 

Electricity and gas top ups should only be purchased from official PayPoint or Payzone outlets or directly from the energy supplier’s website, app or telephone service, and not from a doorstep seller or via social media.

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, explains: “Energy suppliers will never call at your door offering discounted energy top ups. If this does happen we ask you to follow the below advice to help protect you from a scam and ultimately losing money.”

  • Don’t ever buy an electricity or gas top-up from someone who calls to your door.
  • Do buy electricity and gas top-ups only from official outlets or directly from your supplier.
  • Stop and think; if someone is trying to sell you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you buy a top-up this way, you will be the one that ends up out of pocket as you’ll have to pay twice for it.
  • Be aware of fraudsters calling at your door. Insist on time to speak to a family member before making your decision. Never give your bank details, credit card or other personal details to anyone calling at your door until you have checked their credentials and are completely satisfied they are genuine.
  • If you’re worried about someone who is calling at your door, phone 101, the PSNI’s non-emergency number. In an emergency, always dial 999.

For more information on scams, download a copy of The Consumer Council’s  ‘Know the signs, stop the crime’ scams leaflet at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call freephone 0800 121 6022 for a free copy.

 

Ofcom Recovering postal regulation and consumer advocacy costs

Post Office Network Consultation

The Consumer Advocacy Bodies response to Ofcom’s Review of the Regulation of Royal Mail

The Consumer Council statement on Kilroot and Ballylumford Power Stations

in Energy

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “Following today’s announcement by AES, assurances will need to be provided to Northern Ireland consumers about the long and medium term cost and reliability of electricity in Northern Ireland.


“The Consumer Council recognises that Northern Ireland’s energy market has become increasingly diversified in recent years with renewables now playing a key role, and that the new Integrated Single Electricity Market (I-SEM), will over this auction period (16 months from 23 May 2018) bring cost savings. However, over the last three years Kilroot has met around one-fifth of Northern Ireland’s electricity demand, and therefore reassurances are needed from both the I-SEM Committee and System Operator for NI (SONI) that this will ultimately not be counter-productive for Northern Ireland’s consumers in the long and medium term.” 

 

 

Unfair Private Parking Charges Factsheet

25 January 2018

Consumer Council welcomes north-south electricity interconnector planning decision

in Energy

Welcoming the planning decision, John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “The Consumer Council welcomes today’s announcement from the Department for Infrastructure regarding the planning go-ahead for the construction of the second north-south electricity interconnector. The Consumer Council looks forward to working with SONI, Utility Regulator and NIE Networks to ensure the interconnector delivers the expected benefits and is completed in the most cost effective way for consumers.”

Young at Heart Retirement Exhibition - Craigavon

18th January 2018

Goods and Services

Ban on credit and debit card surcharges comes into effect on Saturday 13 January

in Consumer Skills, Money Affairs

The Consumer Council wants to remind consumers that from this Saturday businesses can no longer apply an additional charge (surcharge) to your order when you pay by debit or credit card.

Dr Catriona MacArthur, Director of Consumer Insight, Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “There have been fears expressed that the ban on surcharges will lead to price increases as businesses seek to recoup their costs elsewhere. Already there is evidence of some companies replacing the card surcharge with a ‘service charge’.  We may also see more businesses impose a minimum spending limit, or a refusal of card payments altogether. 

“However, in spite of these fears, we believe the ban is a positive move as prices should become more transparent, making shopping around and price comparison easier for consumers. 

 “Another important benefit is that it will prevent consumers being deterred from using their credit or debit card to make payments. Credit cards offer greater protection for purchases of single items costing over £100 up to £30,000 as the credit card provider must by law help get your money back if problems arise. The Chargeback process is also available for credit card purchases under £100, and all debit card purchases.” 

To find out more about protection offered by different payment methods, please contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 for your free copy of Safer Ways to Pay, or you can download it from www.consumercouncil.org.uk

If you notice any businesses not complying with the ban on credit and debit card surcharges you should report this to Trading Standards Service via Consumerline: 0300 123 6262.

11 January 2018

Young at Heart Retirement Living Exhibition - Belfast

Postal Resources

Consumer Clinic

Consumer Clinic

Consumer Clinic

4th January 2018

Hospital union members land airline compensation with help from The Consumer Council

in Transport

17 union members get back £4,513 in airline compensation

Union members from a number of Northern Ireland hospitals are flying high after receiving over £4,500 compensation for cancelled flights.  

Members of the UNISON public service union were due to return from London following a conference in June. Their flight from Gatwick was cancelled leaving the passengers stranded. When they finally made it home on later flights, they contacted the airline for compensation, without success.  

John Murray, Belfast City Hospital UNISON Representative, said; “After the airline failed to compensate passengers, I saw a tweet by another passenger who had contacted The Consumer Council. I followed suit and as a result 17 members of UNISON were able to obtain a total of £4,513 in compensation. We are delighted with the way The Consumer Council handled our case, and would recommend anyone else who experiences problems to get in touch with them.”  

Noleen Charnley, Consumer Empowerment Officer at The Consumer Council, said; “We are delighted to have helped Belfast City Hospital UNISON members receive compensation from the airline. This shows the power of social media, and thanks to one passenger sharing their successful outcome, we were then contacted by several others! If anyone else is experiencing difficulties in obtaining compensation for delayed or cancelled flights, The Consumer Council is here to help”.   

For more information about your passengers rights, visit: www.consumercouncil.org.uk/transport/air-travel or telephone 0800 121 6022 for a free copy of The Consumer Council’s ‘Plane Facts’ guide. 

Postal Complaints

28 December 2017

Giving back this Christmas - Advice for returning unwanted gifts

in Post

Tis the season of giving but on occasions we may wish not to receive some gifts (e.g. itchy jumpers or pungent soap).

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “Sometimes we are given a Christmas present, which either we already have, isn’t suitable or we simply won’t use. In these cases we are often left wondering what to do.  The Consumer Council has developed a checklist for those of us who may receive unwanted gifts.”

Returning unwanted gifts checklist:

  • Check the retailer’s refund policy. By law, a retailer doesn’t have to do anything if there’s nothing wrong with the item other than that you don’t want it, but many stores will offer gestures of goodwill such as an exchange or credit note.
  • If the item was bought by debit or credit card, and you haven’t been given a gift receipt, the cardholder will need to be present to enable the refund to go back on their card.
  • You will probably be asked for proof of purchase. The best way to do this is to have the receipt, or a gift receipt. However, if the item was bought by card then a bank statement will also act as proof. As above, the account holder will need to be present. 
  • Not all goods can be returned, for example DVDs and games which have had the seal broken or goods that have been personalised e.g. engraved with your name or perishable items like a food hamper.
  • If you receive a gift which is faulty, not fit for purpose or of unsatisfactory quality, you should contact the person who gave you the gift as they have 30 days to reject the item and return it for a refund.
  • If a fault appears after 30 days, you still have consumer rights. In fact, you have up to six years to complain if it’s reasonable to expect the gift item to last that long.
  • To find out more about your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=781v8vfGvTQ or telephone us for a factsheet on your rights as a consumer.

For further information, The Consumer Council has produced a ‘Returning Unwanted Gifts’ factsheet. This can downloaded at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or to request a free copy call 0800 121 6022 or email info@consumercouncil.org.uk. You can also get in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Help is at hand with Christmas postal issues

in Post

The Consumer Council provides advice for lost, damaged, delayed or mis-delivered Christmas post.

The Consumer Council is advising consumers to complain if they have experienced problems with their Christmas post.

Kellin McCloskey, Head of Post at The Consumer Council said; “Many of us will have ordered online or sent parcels this Christmas. Whilst most items will have arrived hassle free, some of us may have experienced issues with damaged, delayed or mis-delivered items, causing loved ones to have missed out on their gifts or being left out of pocket for a gift which didn’t arrive.

“If you have had a problem with your mail, you can complain and may be entitled to refund or compensation. If your complaint is about a postal delivery regarding an online purchase you should firstly contact the retailer. However, if your complaint is in relation to the postal operator with whom you have organised delivery you should contact them directly.”

Kellin added, “If you are hitting the January sales online then we would also advise you to always check the delivery terms and conditions before ordering to check the terms and conditions and if there are any delivery restrictions.”

Any consumer who has a postal enquiry or complaint can download The Consumer Council postal guide ‘Making a Postal Complaint’ by visiting www.consumercouncil.org.uk or get in touch on 0800 121 6022.

Draft Forward Work Programme Consultation Event

Draft Forward Work Programme 2018-19

21 December 2017

Response to Utility Regulator Call for Evidence TPI in the non domestic retail market

Council Minutes - October 2017

Dreaming of a light Christmas energy bill

in Energy

Get the gift of reduced energy bills: Festive energy savings tips to help reduce New Year energy bills


The Consumer Council is encouraging households to be energy efficient this Christmas.  
Richard Williams, Head of Energy at The Consumer Council explains “It can be easy for energy consumption to increase over the Christmas holidays.  However there are a number of simple measures you can make to help reduce New Year energy bills.”

  • Ask Santa for a cheaper energy supplier – Check to see if you can get a better energy deal – use our online energy price comparison tool here
  • Elf time hours - If on Economy 7 save money by using large appliances at night time. 
  • Festive lights – Switch to more efficient LED Christmas lights and turn off room lights when the tree is lit. Consider purchasing a timer, otherwise remember to turn off the festive lights before going to bed.   
  • Christmas dinner - Leave the oven door open after cooking to let the heat warm your kitchen or dining area.
  • Christmas dishes – Make sure you fill the dishwasher before putting it on. The fuller the load, the more efficient the cycle. Same applies for the washing machine. 
  • Christmas gadgets - Turn your TVs, games consoles and computers off when not in use and don’t leave on standby. 

The Consumer Council has a range of resources, including our online electricity price comparison tool to our step by step guide to the switching process, to help consumers save money on their energy bills. Copies of all resources and guides are available to download from www.consumercouncil.org.uk, by contacting us on 0800 121 6022 or via Facebook or Twitter.

Affected Santander consumers advised to check new bank arrangements meet their needs

in Consumer Skills, Money Affairs

Santander to close two branches in Belfast – Donegall Square East and Shaftsbury Square

Following Santander’s announcement that they will close their Shaftsbury Square and Donegall Square East branches on 31 May and transfer affected consumers to their Royal Avenue branch, The Consumer Council is encouraging affected consumers to speak with Santander and check that the revised arrangements will continue to meet their needs.

Speaking about the announcement, John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “Since 2010, we have seen around 42% of bank branches close in Northern Ireland. Following this latest announcement from Santander, we would encourage affected consumers to speak directly with the bank to ensure the new arrangements meet their individual needs.

“We always recommend consumers to be proactive in managing their banking arrangements. Many people are now choosing to use different ways of banking, such as mobile or online banking, and this may mean they need to switch bank accounts and/or provider. 

“Switching bank accounts is quick and hassle-free. To get a copy of our guide to switching bank account, visit our website at www.consumercouncil.org.uk, contact us on 0800 121 6022 or via our Facebook and Twitter.”

The Consumer Council also has a ‘Bank Branch Closure’ factsheet which is available to download at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or by calling 0800 121 6022.

14 December 2017

The Consumer Council offer advice following Peter Kay Belfast shows cancelled

in Consumer Skills

The Consumer Council has offered advice to consumers affected by the announcement that Peter Kay has cancelled his upcoming tour, including six dates at Belfast SSE Arena in January 2019. 

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “If you bought your tickets from Ticketmaster online or by telephone using a debit or credit card, you will have your account automatically refunded within the next few days. If you purchased tickets in person from an official outlet or the venue, you will receive a full refund from your point of purchase from Thursday, December 14 at 10am.”

However those who bought their tickets from a secondary website may not have the same chance of getting a refund. 

Philippa continued: “You have fewer rights when buying tickets from a secondary ticket seller, however, many specialist secondary ticket sites provide consumer protection guarantees. Check whether your ticket seller website is a member of Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) which has, as a condition of membership, a face-value refund after cancellation.

You may also have protection from your card issuer if you bought with a credit or debit card.  If you bought a single ticket costing £100 or over, you could use S75 of the Consumer Credit Act which means the credit card provider must help you get your money back. If you’ve bought a number of tickets, or the ticket value is less than £100, you can use the credit or debit card provider’s Chargeback process to claim money back. For more information on this, we have a ‘Buying secondary tickets’ factsheet on our website.”

For more information visit The Consumer Council’s website www.consumercouncil.org.uk or telephone 0800 121 6022. 

 

Stamp out big Christmas postage costs

in Post

Shopping around can save money on Christmas postage costs

The Consumer Council is encouraging consumers to save money on postage costs by shopping around this Christmas, as prices can vary.

The Consumer Council has looked at a range of parcel operators to explore the price of posting some of this year’s top Christmas presents and toys within Northern Ireland, to the UK and ROI. Findings have revealed that postage costs can vary significantly, and in many cases cost much more than the price of the actual present. The cost of posting a book to the Republic of Ireland ranged from £4.19 to £34.95, depending on the operator chosen.

This represents an 88% price difference or £30.76 in savings. Kellin McCloskey, Head of Post at The Consumer Council said; “Many consumers still like to post Christmas presents to family and friends near and far. With a range of parcel companies available in Northern Ireland, our findings show savings of 80% (£28.20) on sending a child’s toy to Scotland.” Kellin continued, “Even the price of smaller units such as an activity wristband tracker can vary significantly regardless of where you send them; within Northern Ireland we saw a 80% saving in postage costs of £11.16.

So we are calling on consumers to shop around to see which parcel operator can provide the best delivery cost and to double check all parcel operator’s last postings dates.” For further information on postal advice this Christmas, visit The Consumer Council website www.consumercouncil.org.uk or Facebook The-Consumer-Council-Northern-Ireland/ or Twitter @ConsumerCouncil.

The Consumer Council celebrate World Health Organization success

in Transport

Accessible Travel Highly Commended at Belfast Healthy City Awards

The Consumer Council is celebrating after our transport access audits were recognised for excellence at the 2017 WHO Belfast Healthy City Awards. The Consumer Council’s access audits, are aimed at improving access to transport services for passengers with a disability or reduced mobility.
 
Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport at The Consumer Council, said: “A range of access audits have taken place across Northern Ireland, in all airports and ferry ports, and some train and bus stations. As a result of these audits changes have been made to improve passenger access, including better signage, improved seating, clearer walkways and tactile paving. We are delighted to have received this commendation at the Belfast Healthy City Awards.” 

For more information on accessible travel, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk/transport or contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022.  

Search begins for new board members for the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

in Business

The Department for the Economy (DfE) today launched a public appointments competition to recruit three new board members to the Board of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.


The Consumer Council is a public body, independent from government, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland consumers. Its aim is to make the consumer voice heard and make it count. It has specific functions in relation to energy, water, transport, postal services and food.


The Department wishes to appeal to people of all ages from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to help maximise the relevance of the Consumer Council to all of our citizens and bring some fresh perspectives on consumer issues from their own practical experience. Those with a community or voluntary sector background and/or those from the rural communities are especially encouraged to apply.


This is an open competition which involves an application form and interview. The closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm on Wednesday 10 January 2018. These appointments will be made by an incoming Minister for the Department. The competition is being launched now to ensure that potential candidates can be identified in time for appointments to be made early in 2018.   


The time commitment is one day per month.  Remuneration of £106.50 per day and £53.26 for a half day is payable.  All reasonable travel and subsistence costs, and any dependant-carer expenses incurred whilst undertaking Board duties will also be reimbursed where applicable.


No academic qualifications are required for the posts. Appointments will be made on merit from those applicants who best satisfy the following criteria - thinking strategically, working in partnership, communication skills plus a choice of one from the following – financial understanding, good governance or practical experience of consumer issues and representation.


The Department is currently operating the Guaranteed Interview Scheme in this competition for applicants with a disability.


For further information or to receive an application pack visit www.economy-ni.gov.uk/gcc-members. Or you contact DfE, Public Appointments Unit, Netherleigh, Massey Avenue, Belfast BT4 2JP, Tel: (028) 9052 9282 or (028) 9052 9531, text relay: 18001 028 9052 9282 or 18001 028 9052 9531 or by email  pau@economy-ni.gov.uk

 

7 December 2017

Public Transport Why People Use it, Why People Don’t and How to Get Them ‘On Board’

Additional Help for Energy and Water Customers

30 November 2017

The Consumer Council Press Statement - Secondary Ticketing Websites

in Consumer Skills

Dr Catriona Mac Arthur, Director of Consumer Insight, Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, has welcomed today’s announcement by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that it will take action against secondary ticket websites suspected of breaching consumer protection law. 

Catriona said: “The Consumer Council have previously issued warnings to NI consumers when major concerts and sporting events have sold out quickly, prompting consumers to buy from secondary ticketing sites. 

“The CMA will be taking action to ensure consumers are better informed about any restrictions on the tickets they are purchasing, which can lead to their being denied access to the event, with all the disappointment and financial loss that can bring.”

For more information download a copy of the ‘Buying secondary tickets for concerts and events’ factsheet from The Consumer Council website www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022 for a free copy. If you experience a problem with tickets bought contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.
 

Omagh charity building save £3,895 from water bill with help from The Consumer Council

in Water

Omagh Community House is celebrating to the tune of £3,895 following action by The Consumer Council regarding its water bill.

The town centre building, which houses a number of community and voluntary sector organisations, received a large bill due to an unidentified water leak. John McKinney, who runs the centre, contacted The Consumer Council for help. The Consumer Council helped identify where the leak had come from, and helped Omagh Community House complete a leakage allowance form for NI Water, which led to a reduction of £3,895 on its water bill. 

Speaking about the result, John McKinney of Omagh Community House said; “As the building is there to provide affordable, high-quality office space and meeting facilities to many community and voluntary sector organisations, every pound and penny counts. We were shocked when the water bill arrived. We approached The Consumer Council for help. They managed to sort the issue out for us very quickly.

“As well as resolving the problem by achieving a reduction in the bill, The Consumer Council gave us advice on how to regularly check our water meter to prevent further large bills.” 

Graham Smith, Head of Water at The Consumer Council added; “We are delighted to have helped Omagh Community House save money on its water bill. We have a duty to help consumers with water matters, including ensuring businesses are being billed correctly and claiming appropriate allowances. We encourage other businesses in the area to contact The Consumer Council if they have concerns about their water bill. Businesses could be paying more for water than they have to.” 

The Consumer Council provides online information to help non-domestic and agricultural water users calculate their water usage, save water and reduce their bills.  

If you are concerned about your business’s water bill you can email waterchampions@consumercouncil.org.uk or telephone 0800 121 6022 to request a free Water Bill Health Check. 

The Consumer Council help West Belfast bakery save dough on water bills

in Water

A local bakery is celebrating having a bite out of its water bill. Smyth’s Country Bakery, located in Riverdale Park East, had its bill reduced by £1,851 following action by The Consumer Council. 

John Smyth, who owns the bakery, contacted The Consumer Council for help. As well as having the large bill reduced, getting all future bills significantly reduced was the icing on the cake. 

John says, “We received a large retrospective bill and could not believe how high it was. The Consumer Council helped identify the most cost effective way for our business to be billed. As well as receiving a reduction of £1,851 on the bill, they ensured all future bills would be reduced.”  

Graham Smith, Head of Water at The Consumer Council added; “We are delighted to have helped Smyth’s Country Bakery save money on its water bill. We have a duty to help consumers with water matters, including ensuring business have the correct domestic allowance. We encourage other businesses in the area to contact The Consumer Council if they have concerns about their water bill. Businesses could be paying more for water than they have to.” 

The Consumer Council also provides online information to help non-domestic and agricultural water users calculate their water usage, save water and reduce their bills.  

If you are concerned about your business’s water bill you can email waterchampions@consumercouncil.org.uk or telephone 0800 121 6022 to request a free Water Bill Health Check. 

Private Car Parking Charges Complaint Template

Scam Mail

23 November 2017

Response to the Utility Regulator Review of DUoS Domestic Tariff Charging Methodology

Basic Bank Account guide

Santa savings on online delivery of toy orders

in Post

With Black Friday fast approaching The Consumer Council wants to make sure consumers plan ahead and get the best delivery deals for online orders.

The Consumer Council has compared delivery charges for some of the more popular Christmas toys sold at the top eight online retailers, and found that delivery prices vary from free to as much as £29.99. 

Kellin McCloskey, Head of Post at The Consumer Council said; “Many consumers will be hitting the online Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for those all-important Christmas presents. With delivery charges ranging from free to £29.99, the question we are putting to consumers is why pay extra when you don’t need to?

“With such variation in delivery price, we’ve found that if you shop around, you could get free delivery on your Christmas toys, not only saving you money but meaning you’ve money left over to treat yourself.”

Kellin continued; “Obviously delivery prices are potentially a lot more when it comes to purchasing larger items. As Santa delivers for free we don’t need to worry about the larger items he brings, but if you are buying a larger gift for a loved one, we would encourage consumers to shop around. We found that delivery charges range from free to £29.99 for items, such as a trampoline or bicycle.”

The Consumer Council is encouraging you to follow these simple tips and you could make your Black Friday Christmas shopping experience better value and a little less stressful:

  1. Shop early. Free delivery is normally only available on standard delivery which may take over a week to arrive.
  2. Many of the top toy retailers are currently offering free or discounted delivery through discount code websites. Simply search for your chosen retailer, choose the offer and enter the code at your basket stage on the retailer’s website.
  3. Many retailers offer free click and collect. Simply get your order delivered to your local convenience shop for free.
  4. Remember free UK delivery includes NI, so stand up for your rights if a retailer advertises free UK delivery but withdraws the offer if delivering to NI

We visited St George’s Market, Belfast to ask Consumers do they check online delivery charges when buying toys - check out what they say. 

 

 

Review of Firmus Energy (Supply) Ltd Price Control Scope

Border Post - A report on cross border mail delivery

Do you sell online? Are you getting the best deal on delivery charges?

in Post

If you are a small business and selling online, The Consumer Council has advice to save you money when posting your online orders this Christmas.

Kellin McCloskey, Head of Post at The Consumer Council said, “Online sellers often rely on one postal provider, however, there are savings of at least 45% to be made by shopping around.

“If you are sending items regularly it is worthwhile checking to see if any parcel operators offer discounts, but this may be dependent on the volume of goods you send. Another option is to consider a parcel comparison website, which are a quick and useful tool to help you find the best price postage.”

Kellin added, “If you use an online booking and drop off postal service, it’s important to check the size and weight of your order to ensure you are paying the correct postage. This will help you avoid overpaying for postage and should also avoid consumers having to pay if items are underpaid. Remember you don’t want to miss out on business because of delivery costs.”

Kellin continued, “With 31% of consumers not completing their online shopping until mid-December, it’s important to offer a speedy service in a cost effective manner, so choose the right postal provider and product to suit your business needs.”

Any online traders who would like more information can download a copy of The Consumer Council’s ‘Sending Letters and Parcels’ guide at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022.  

Want to learn more? Check out our YouTube video's  featuring Jenny Horner (Steam Punked Ireland) and Keith Lane (Norn Ireland Gift Shop), two traders at St George’s Market Belfast to share their knowledge about online delivery charges.

 

16 November 2017

New cheque clearing system

The Consumer Council responds to Ulster Bank branch closures

in Money Affairs

Calls on banking industry and regulator to adopt strategic, community-wide approach to bank branch closures instead of simply responding to commercial imperatives of individual banks.

Bank branches closures can have a big impact on local communities. The announcement by Ulster Bank today will mean that a further nine communities in Northern Ireland will be left without a bank presence. The Consumer Council will be working with affected Ulster Bank consumers to help them know what do when their local branch is going to close.

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council said, “In 2017 alone, there have been 33 bank branch closures. This decision by Ulster Bank today will mean an additional 11 branches will be closed, leaving many consumers without a local branch and the services they provide.

“Whilst we recognise that many consumers find it easier to access banking services in different ways such as the internet, apps, and over the phone; it is important to remember that there are still many people and small businesses who do not have access to the internet, and therefore rely on face-to-face banking services to manage their finances.

“With these closures, 42% of Northern Ireland’s bank branches will have closed since 2010. Unfortunately, when previous closures have been announced, other banks have often followed suit. Next week, The Consumer Council is meeting separately with the Chief Executives from both the Financial Conduct Authority and the bank’s trade association, UK Finance. At these meetings we will be stressing the need for a more strategic, community-wide approach to bank provision in Northern Ireland; rather than simply allowing consumers to be consistently affected by the commercial imperative of individual banks.

“The Consumer Council would encourage Ulster Bank customers affected by the closures to contact their bank directly to ensure that their alternative services will meet their needs. If not, we would advise consumers to review their bank account and check it provides the best overall deal and service. The Consumer Council’s website (www.consumercouncil.org.uk) provides guides on bank closures and switching bank accounts, and comparison tools to help consumers ensure they are receiving the best deal for their current account. Alternatively customers can call us on 0800 121 6022.”

Postal Tips and Advice

Borrowing Money support leaflet

Manage your money and make savings for Christmas

in Consumer Skills

For many people, Christmas is a special time of year, but with the cost of presents and food shopping, it can also be financially stressful.

One way to relieve some of the pressure associated with Christmas spend is to set a realistic budget in advance – and stick to it! The Consumer Council has released a Christmas Budget Planner to help consumers think about the money they need in the run up to festive period. 


Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “Setting and keeping to a fixed budget can ease your worries and will reduce financial strains that can last well into the New Year. The Consumer Council’s budget planner prompts you to make a list of who you are buying presents for, what you plan to spend on each, and then asks you to record what the actual spend was.” 


In addition to the budget planner, The Consumer Council suggest the following ‘12 Tips of Christmas’ to help your money go even further: 

  1. Start shopping early to help spread the costs;
  2. Shop around and compare prices;
  3. Get receipts for everything and keep them safe in case you need to return a purchase;
  4. Request a gift receipt if the person you’re buying for might need to take it back;
  5. Resist the temptation to buy top-up presents;
  6. Keep track of who you have bought for to avoid unnecessary duplication;    
  7. If buying online, get our Guide to Shopping Safely Online to make sure you are buying from a  safe website that will keep your personal and financial details safe; 
  8. Cash in your gift vouchers (one in four are not used);
  9. Do not shop for Christmas food when you are hungry;
  10. If you have some spare pennies after Christmas, buy next year’s cards and wrapping paper in the New Year sales;  
  11. If you do get into debt, pay it off as early as possible to avoid paying interest;
  12. Resist the temptation to get carried away - making happy memories and spending quality time together costs very little. 


To download a free copy of the Christmas Budget Planner, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk. Alternatively, call The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 to request a free copy. 
 

‘Be prepared’…to be a better consumer

in Consumer Skills

First ‘Consumer Scout’ badges awarded to Scouts from Islandmagee

The Consumer Council and Scouts NI have developed a new consumer awareness programme designed to ensure younger shoppers are aware of their rights when they shop online or on the high street. Successful Consumer Scouts will be awarded with a new Consumer Scout badge.

Scouts from Islandmagee Scout Group were the first to receive their badges, which were awarded by former Scout Sammy Wilson MP.

Commenting on the initiative, Mr Wilson said, “I would really like to congratulate Scouts NI and The Consumer Council for this excellent partnership and launch event. Just because some of our consumers are younger or may not have the same financial responsibilities, it does not mean they shouldn’t have the same access to consumer knowledge. I am pleased to see how the young Scouts will have a greater understanding of their consumer rights, especially when it comes to buying things on the internet. The knowledge they have gained will mean they can act as consumer champions, going out into the community to help their friends and families better understand their consumer rights.”

Speaking about the initiative, John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council said; “We thank Scouts NI for working with us to develop the Consumer Scout initiative. Our research shows young people are often unaware of their basic consumer rights and can lack the confidence to complain if they buy something that is faulty or if they receive poor service. We hope these young people use their new consumer skills and share what they’ve learnt with friends, family and schoolmates.”

Anne Nicholson, Northern Ireland Scouts Commissioner said, “This initiative recognises that our Scouts need consumer skills to help navigate a complex commercial world. Young people are constantly being bombarded with advertising messages, and need the skills to spend wisely, shop safely, and to complain if things go wrong.”

For more information on the Consumer Scout initiative, please get in touch with Ronan Convery, Senior Consumer Empowerment Officer by email: ronan.convery@consumercouncil.org.uk or call: 0800 121 6022

Consumers urged to take power of controlling their energy bills

in Energy

Click Energy are fourth company to announce tariff increase

With Click Energy implementing a 15.77% tariff increase on 1 December 2017, The Consumer Council is urging consumers to take control of their energy bills and check if there is a better energy deal to help save money. 

The increase will affect 26,000 Click Energy customers, and will see a typical Click Energy consumer’s electricity bill rise from £428 to £496. This will be an increase of £68 per year. 

Speaking about the tariff increase, Richard Williams, Head of Energy for The Consumer Council said; “Clearly this is more unwelcome news for Northern Ireland consumers, especially given that four of the five electricity companies have announced an increase in recent months. However, consumers can take action by shopping around for a better deal. 

 “Our online energy comparison tool makes it easy for consumers to find out if they are on the best tariff. The simple five step process allows consumers to compares tariffs from all five electricity suppliers.  At present consumers could potentially make a maximum typical annual saving of £145.  Consumers can also call us for guidance.” 

The Consumer Council’s energy price comparison tool can be found at www.consumercouncil.org.uk/energy/energy-price-comparison/ or you can telephone 0800 121 6022. 

PPI Factsheet

9 November 2017

Consumer Parliament 2018

Consumers should drive a hard bargain for car insurance

in Money Affairs

The Consumer Council is urging drivers to shop around for better deals on their car insurance as latest figures reveal Northern Ireland motorists pay 22% more than the UK average.

Recent AA figures reveal prices for Northern Ireland drivers have dropped by almost 8% in the last three months, however at £870.49 we are still paying almost 22% more than the UK average of £697.34. 

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “Drivers can often get a better deal on their car insurance by shopping around. We would advise consumers to set an annual reminder before their renewal date and allow themselves time to research the market. We also advise consumers to use two to three comparison websites to get an idea of what is on offer. Consumers should then examine direct providers websites and phone different insurance brokers and providers, to see who will offer the best deal, as not all providers are included on price comparison websites. Research shows that 45% of drivers in Northern Ireland stay with the same insurer each year, compared to only 30% in England”. 

The Consumer Council has produced a guide ‘Driving down the cost of car insurance’ which is available from www.consumercouncil.org.uk or by calling 0800 121 6022. 

2 November 2017

Enquiries and Complaints Report 2016-17

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Council Minutes - September 2017

Consumers urged to put energy into checking their electricity deal

in Energy

With Electric Ireland’s 7.2% tariff increase announced today, The Consumer Council is urging you to check if there is a better energy deal to help you save money.

This is the third electricity supplier to increase their tariff this autumn which means nine out of ten households in Northern Ireland have now received notice of a price increase, but only one in three consumers have switched supplier in the last three years.

This latest tariff increase, which comes into effect on 1 February 2018, will see a typical Electric Ireland consumer’s bill rise from £448 to £480. This will be an increase of £32 per year. 

Richard Williams, Head of Energy at The Consumer Council, said: “Clearly this is more unwelcome news for Northern Ireland consumers, especially given that two other providers have increased their tariffs recently.

Richard continued, “Next week is Energy Saving Week, and our team will be at various shopping centres around Northern Ireland to speak with consumers and provide advice on switching and the savings that can be made. So I would encourage you to come and see us if you can, or use our simple online energy price comparison tool. This makes it easy to compare prices and explains the switching process.

ENDS

26 October 2017

Energy Saving Week roadshow

Energy Saving Week roadshow

Energy Saving Week roadshow

Energy Saving Week roadshow

Energy Saving Week roadshow

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